Past Abuse Can Be Considered In A Current Request For Protection From Abuse

October 28, 2020 | By Julie R. Colton

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During the pandemic domestic violence victims may be finding it harder to find resources or seek out help. Victims may be less likely to get a break from the abuse of their partner. It can be hard to overcome the threats and misinformation provided by the abuser. Finding assistance or talking to a professional can help you determine how to address your abuse. A professional should also help victims create a safety plan.

Part of a safety plan might be to request a Protection From Abuse Order. Protection from Abuse Orders can be obtained at the local family court or the magisterial district judge office. Each county’s process is a bit different.

When requesting a Protection From Abuse Order in Pennsylvania, the victim needs to prove abuse occurred.

Domestic violence is often a pattern or history of abuse. The Protection From Abuse Statute recognizes this fact. In a Protection From Abuse hearing, the court can consider the entire history of abuse, not just the most recent abuse. You can present the complete history of abuse in the relationship even if it was not listed on the request for protection.

When considering past abuse, the court can review issues of abuse that have been part of prior custody and Protection from Abuse litigation. This remains true even if the victim was not granted the relief he or she requested.

In some instances, the most recent event of abuse is not as significant as events in the past. This is why the history of divorce becomes so significant. Often a prior serious act of abuse is used a threat to control the victim.

In a recent court case, the Superior Court held that an entire history of abuse may be heard by the court and that prior related hearings do not bind the court on a new request for Protection from Abuse. In E.K. v. J.R.A., 2020 Pa. Super. 134, the parties had a long history with the court. There had been a number of requests for Protection from Abuse. There had also been a few custody modifications and emergency custody requests. In the past, mother had had limited success in these requests for protection or for custody relief.

Father in E.K. v. J.R.A. published a Facebook post after a custody ruling that favored Mother. Mother perceived the post as threatening. Mother requested a Protection From Abuse Order. At the Protection From Abuse hearing, the court reviewed a variety of Facebook posts, including one that had been the subject of a prior Protection From Abuse hearing. The Court granted Mother with a protection from Abuse Order. The E.K. v. J.R.A. Court also ruled that Father was in contempt of the custody order, even though Mother did not make a contempt request of the court. The Superior Court upheld these rulings by the trial court.

The E.K. v. J.R.A. court defined abuse as the “occurrence of one or more of the following act is between family of household members, sexual or intimate partner or persons who share biological parenthood: … Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.” 23 Ps. C.S.A. 6102(a)(2). The court determined that Mother was in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury. This fear was based on Father’s historical behavior and current and prior social media posts.

Social media posts can be grounds for a Protection From Abuse Order. Posts can often help to show the intent of an abuser or a pattern of abuse. Social media posts are also time-stamped which help show how they fit into a timeline of events.

Protection from Abuse is not a criminal matter. This means evidence does not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Abuse needs to be proven to have been more likely than not to have occurred. You will hear this standard referred to a by a preponderance of the evidence.
As discussed above, child custody and Protection From Abuse cases often intersect. A ruling in one matter may change the status of the other matter, or it may not. It is important to make sure you have a lawyer that can help you to coordinate the various types of litigation in your case. Also, you want a lawyer who understands how the matters of custody and domestic violence effect each other.

If a final Protection From Abuse Order is granted against a parent, that must be considered in a custody case. In many instances, Protection From Abuse matters are settled. Settling the matter privately should not have a negative effect on the custody matter.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. During the pandemic domestic violence victims may be finding it harder to find resources or seek out help.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal or medical advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel or medical consultation, and should not be relied on as such.



About the Authors

Julie Colton - Pittsburgh Family Law Mediation

Julie R. Colton


Pittsburgh Family Law Attorney   Julie focuses her practice on family law matters including divorce, child custody, support, asset division, prenuptial agreements, and international custody. Julie also has experience in family law...

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